Master Rachelle Esterhazy
Productive feedback practices in higher education. Investigating social and epistemic relations in two undergraduate courses.
Feedback on student work has received much attention in higher education due to its potential to encourage students to engage actively with the knowledge of their disciplines. Despite this increasing attention, many aspects of feedback are still not fully understood. This thesis addresses this challenge by shifting focus to the processual and relational aspects of feedback. Drawing on a sociocultural perspective, the notion of productive feedback practices is proposed to refer to the ways in which course participants (i.e. teachers and students) generate, make meaning of, and act upon information about the quality of student performances. These practices incorporate, and are shaped by, the social and epistemic relations between actions of course participants, components of the course design, and the resources available in the knowledge domain.
Empirically, the thesis investigates (1) how feedback practices in higher education are constituted by social and epistemic relations in the course environment, and (2) how configurations of social and epistemic relations can facilitate productive feedback practices. These questions are addressed in the context of two qualitative case studies at two different Norwegian higher education institutions: a course in biology and a course in software engineering.
The empirical work is divided into three articles. Article 1 studies feedback encounters between course participants and relevant resources during an entire course period. Article 2 investigates how a student group engages with feedback comments on a group assignment during concrete feedback encounters. And article 3 explores how the two course designs cater for productive feedback practices in different ways.
The findings demonstrate how feedback practices are intertwined with the respective knowledge domains of the two courses; what relations and processes are at play when students make meaning of and act upon feedback; and how the two course designs generate different opportunities for the emergence of productive feedback practices. Finally, this thesis yields several implications for pedagogical practice. The findings suggest that teachers’ efforts to generate productive feedback should not be limited to improving isolated elements such as the formulation of a comment. Instead, teachers should become more aware of the relations that make up course environments and how these relations may be configured to generate conditions for productive feedback practices.